12 28/12/2016

Rare giraffe calf is born on Boxing Day at Chester Zoo

A rare Rothschild’s giraffe calf born on Boxing Day at Chester Zoo has been described by keepers as “the best Christmas gift.”

  • Falling more than 6ft during birth, the rare Rothschild’s giraffe calf was up on its feet within minutes
  • Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the world’s most endangered mammals with recent estimates suggesting less than 1,600 now remain
  • Loss of habitat and poaching for their meat has driven the subspecies to the very brink of existence
  • Chester’s new arrival gives a welcome boost to the endangered species breeding programme

Giraffe calf

A lofty new arrival! Keepers at Chester Zoo are celebrating “the best Christmas gift they could have wished for” following the birth of a rare Rothschild’s giraffe calf.

The six-feet-tall youngster, which is yet to be sexed or named, arrived to first time mum Tula and dad Meru at around 7am and was up on its feet just minutes later.

Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered subspecies of giraffe and one of the world’s most at risk mammals. Recent estimates suggest that less than 1,600 individuals remain in the wild, primarily as a result of poaching and habitat loss.

Sarah Roffe, team manager of giraffes at the zoo, said:
Rothschild’s giraffes are highly threatened and so the arrival of a new calf is a major cause for celebration. It really is the best Christmas gift we could have ever have wished for.

Shortly after being born, the calf was up on its feet within minutes, which was really pleasing to see. When it gets a little more used to its long legs it will be introduced to the rest of the herd but, for now, it’s important that mum and calf spend a few days together striking up those early bonds.

This iconic species is often overlooked in Africa and, sadly some populations like the Rothschild’s giraffes are experiencing a silent extinction. They are very much under threat in the wild, so it’s vital that our new calf helps us to throw a spotlight on this amazing species. Hopefully, our not-so-little arrival can generate more awareness of the huge pressures that giraffes face in the wild.
Giraffes overall have recently been recognised as facing extinction for the very first time. In the last 45 years the population of the Rothchild’s giraffes in Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) in Uganda – where they were once found in large numbers - has reduced by over 90%. A huge part of its decline was due to poaching in the 1990’s and since then the population has failed to bounce back as habitat loss continues to threaten their survival.

Giraffe calf with mum

Earlier this year Chester Zoo’s giraffe experts travelled to Uganda and South Africa to help conserve giraffes in the wild. Working with project partners in Uganda - The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) – the zoo’s team helped conduct the first ever census on the Rothschild’s giraffe in an attempt to better understand why the population in the national park is not increasing.

Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s curator of mammals, added:
Zoo staff have been out to Africa to lend their expertise and knowhow to extremely important projects which are aiming to improve the outlook for the species. Initiatives like this really show the role that modern zoos play in animal conservation and it will give us a better understanding of how we can help protect the species and its future.

Rothschild’s giraffe facts:

  • The Rothschild’s giraffe is named after zoologist Lord Walter Rothschild, founder of the National History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire
  • They are also known as the Baringo or Ugandan giraffe
  • The species is identified by its broader dividing white lines and has no spots beneath the knees
  • Estimates suggest that less than 1,600 Rothschild’s  giraffes remain in the wild
  • With less than 1,600 individuals remaining in the wild the Rothschild's giraffe is more endangered than species such as African elephants and giant pandas
  • Roughly one-third of the surviving population of Rothschild’s giraffes live in zoos where carefully co-ordinated breeding programmes are creating a safety-net population for the species
  • Once wide-ranging across Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, the Rothschild’s giraffe has been almost totally eliminated from much of its former range and now only survives in a few small, isolated populations in Kenya and Uganda
  • Predators to the Rothschild’s giraffe are hyenas, lions, crocodiles and leopards.
    The main threat to the species now is loss of habitat and poaching for meat and hides
  • In the past, giraffes were hunted for their tails, which were used as good-luck charms, sewing thread and even fly swats
  • The species is one of the most endangered of the nine sub-species of giraffe
  • Mum Tula is six years old who herself was born at Chester. Tula weighs 696kg
  • Dad is called Meru